Prehistoric Animals I
On 13 June 2023, in the new Prehistoric animals series, the first three stamp sheets on the Fox whale, the woolly mammoth and the sabre-toothed cat will be published. Each stamp sheet contains five stamps featuring the animals and their fossils. The Prehistoric animals series comprises 12 stamp sheets. Each quarter, PostNL will publish three stamp sheets at a time. The next issue dates are 26 September 2023 (Nothosaurus, woolly rhinoceros and aurochs), 14 November 2023 (blunt-snouted dolphin, mastodon and great auk) and 19 March 2024 (large baleen whale, giant beaver and steppe bison). The denomination on these stamps is ‘1’, the denomination for items weighing up to 20g with destinations in the Netherlands. The design of the stamps was created by studio026 in Velp. A sheet of five stamps costs €5.05 (2023 rate).
The Prehistoric animals stamps depict animals from various geological epochs, such as the Nothosaurus from the Triassic (245 million years ago), the large baleen whale from the Miocene (8.7-8.1 million years ago), the blunt-snouted dolphin from the Pliocene (3 million years ago), the woolly mammoth from the Pleistocene (2 million years ago) and the great auk from the Holocene (approximately 5,000 years ago). All 12 prehistoric animals featured on the stamps inhabited the area that is now the Netherlands. Their presence has been inferred from fossils found in Dutch soil, including in the North Sea, in the Eastern and Western Scheldt, along rivers and in quarries. The fossils predominantly comprise bones, skulls, jaws, teeth, molars and horns. Based on the shape of the fossils, palaeontologists can deduce how large the animals were and their other external features. Comparison with surviving related species also provides useful information.
Each stamp sheet in the Prehistoric animals series includes five personal stamps in five different designs. Three stamps feature various images of the prehistoric animal in its natural habitat. The other two stamps feature fossils of the same animal, surrounded by drawn earth layers in which that fossil was found. The sheet edge features one of the animal photos in large. This photo runs underneath the stamps. Each stamp sheet has a base colour referring to the geological epoch in which the prehistoric animal existed. The timeline of all these epochs is shown vertically on the left-hand side of the stamp sheet, above the series title. The name of the prehistoric animal appears on each stamp and in the top right-hand corner of the sheet. The bottom right-hand corner features a short text about the species and its fossils.
The font used for the denomination 1 and Nederland was designed in 2018 by type designer Martin Majoor from Arnhem. The Square 721 (a version of Eurostile by Turin-based type designer Aldo Novarese, 1962, published by Bitstream) was used for the title and the Akzidenz Grotesk (H. Berthold AG from Berlin, 1896) was used for the body text. Fraunces (Phaedra Charles for Undercase Type from New York, 2020) was used as the serif font.
All of the animals featured on the Prehistoric animals stamps have become extinct – some of them millions of years ago. However, science can still deduce from the fossils what the animals roughly looked like. After Velp-based studio026 was commissioned to design 12 stamp sheets about prehistoric animals, Anne Schaufeli and Huub de Lang first of all visited the Natural History Museum Rotterdam. ‘This museum has a great collection of fossils, mostly from Dutch soil,’ Schaufeli said. ‘Bram Langeveld, the curator, had inspiring stores to tell. He told us about prehistoric animals that we didn’t even know existed. The museum doesn’t have any visual material in its collection. We didn’t just want to show bones – we also wanted to depict the animal itself. That’s why we started looking further afield.’
Lifelike and life size
After some meandering, the search led to Remie Bakker, also based in Rotterdam. His company, ManimalWorks produces models of prehistoric animals based on scientific data and information from cave drawings, for example. Schaufeli: ‘Remie builds life-size reconstructions for educational purposes such as museums and scientific exhibitions. It’s just amazing how life-like his animal models look. They’re so life like that you could just encounter them somewhere. Before the models go to the client, they are photographed in an environment that is as close as possible to their original habitat. These photos were used on the stamp sheets. We worked with drawings for the whales and the blunt-snouted dolphin. Some of them come from ManimalWorks. The models and drawings were combined with fossils from the Natural History Museum Rotterdam. From those combinations, we selected 12 prehistoric animals, all of which lived on Dutch soil at one stage.’
Looking back in time
For the design, Schaufeli and De Lang developed a concept based on the stratification of the earth. ‘We wanted to show not just the animal and the fossil, but the connection between them as well,’ says Schaufeli. ‘While a beautiful image, the animal on its own doesn’t tell the full story. Our narrative is that by looking into the earth, you travel back in time. Shifts in the earth's strata bring fossils to the surface, and those fossils enable us to reconstruct prehistoric animals. We also compared the fossils with related species that are still around today.’
Each epoch has its own colour
Schaufeli and De Lang translated the design concept graphically by literally enveloping the fossils and animals on the stamps with layers of earth. ‘The same happened with the large photo of the animal on the sheet edge. First, all the images were detached and we made the colour photos of the fossils monochrome using the selected colour palette. Each geological epoch was given its own colour: a bright colour that matched the animals and their habitats. On the fossil stamps, you’re literally looking down into the earth. This layering is echoed in the animal photographs, combined with the natural environment in which the animals existed. In all cases, the layers follow the contours of the image. Therefore, each stamp sheet has a different graphic translation.’
The fossils were positioned as large as possible on the stamps. For the animals themselves, various cut-outs were selected in order to achieve as much variety as possible. Schaufeli: ‘This also allowed us to zoom in on distinctive details. For example, we focused on the blue stripe on the Nothosaurus’ back, the woolly rhino’s large horn and the sabre-toothed cat’s huge fangs. They’re impressive beasts that you wouldn't want to encounter in real life. Sometimes, the images give you the wrong impression. When I saw the image of the large baleen whales for the first time, I thought they were fighting. But the drawing actually shows how they gather their food, by roughly rooting around the seabed.’
About the designer
studio026 is a graphic design studio in Velp, consisting of Anne Schaufeli (1987, Warnsveld) and Huub de Lang (1980, Arnhem). Both studied at ArtEZ University of the Arts in Arnhem from 2004 to 2008. Since 2009, the agency has focused on designs that are conceptually, editorially and aesthetically sound. The agency’s graphic designers believe in conceptual thinking and take plenty of time and space for research, experiments and innovation. Schaufeli and De Lang have previously designed the 10 years of King Willem-Alexander (2023), Juliana of the Netherlands (2022), Het Loo palace (2022), The Netherlands from the Air (2022), Historic Motorcycles (2021), Old postal routes (2020) and 150 years of the Red Cross in the Netherlands (2017) stamps for PostNL.
About the museum
The Natural History Museum Rotterdam has its origins in collecting animals, shells, fossils and other naturalia from the Cabinet of Dr A. B. van Deinse. The museum was founded in 1927. Since 1987, it has been based in Villa Dijkzigt on Westzeedijk in Museumpark [an urban park in Rotterdam]. The Natural History Museum Rotterdam has a special place in the Rotterdam cultural sector and plays a pioneering role among Dutch natural history museums across the region. The museum attracts over 40,000 visitors each year.